Tompkins County has two large Agriculture Districts, one on each side of the county.
The purpose of Agricultural Districts is to encourage the continued use of farmland for agricultural production. The program is a combination of incentives and protections to forestall conversion of farmland to non-agricultural uses. These benefits are: preferential real property tax treatment (agricultural assessment and special benefit assessment) and protections against unreasonably restrictive local laws, government-funded acquisition, construction projects, and private nuisance suits involving agricultural practices.
Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County, on behalf of the County Agriculture
and Farmland Protection Board and County Legislature, facilitates the review of
Agricultural Districts. These comprehensive reviews take place every 8 years for each district. District 1 was last reviewed in 2020. District 2 was last reviewed 2016. In addition, every year from February 1 - March 2 we review specific requests from property owners to be added to the Agricultural District. All requests for inclusion must be received by March 2nd.
If too late to mail, you may drop the form off at CCE-Tompkins, 615 Willow Avenue, Ithaca NY 14850 (our front desk is staffed 8:30-3pm except Fridays, call 607-272-2292 to confirm someone's there) but you may also scan the form or take a photo with your phone and email it to Mila Fournier at firstname.lastname@example.org then pop the original into the mail.
Yearly Inclusion Process
If your property is used for agricultural activity, either by you or by a tenant, and you would like to have your property considered for inclusion in the Agricultural District, the first step is to complete an "Inclusion Request Form" which is available here.
If you have questions about whether your property is in an Agricultural District, please reach out to your municipality's Planning Department or to the Tompkins County Department of Planning and Sustainability.
Inclusion in the Ag District is a long process that includes Legislative approval.
The PEEQ and County Legislature meetings are public meetings and anyone can attend. The meetings are held over Zoom. Please see the County website (https://www2.tompkinscountyny.gov/legislature) if you would like to view meeting agendas or minutes and to learn how to attend.
8-Year Review Process
The Comprehensive Review process has similar legislative steps as the yearly process but starts 300 days ahead of the district anniversary date. The first step in the 300-day review period is public notice by the legislature that the district is being reviewed (within 30 days of state notice). Each municipality within the district is notified of the district review which is followed by CCE staff work closely with farmers and municipal planning staff to review district boundaries and the level of agricultural activity in the Ag District. During the 8-year review, parcels may be removed from or added to the district. The process involves months of public meetings as well as reaching out to farmers and to property-owners whose land is used for any agricultural purpose. Sometimes it involves visits to properties and discussions with planning staff about short- and long-term comprehensive plans for their municipalities.
Sometimes land is removed from the Ag District if it is clearly not being used for agricultural purposes, stops being appropriate for agricultural uses, or if comprehensive plans call for a different kind of land use. During the whole 300-day period, there is ample time for public involvement. Changes, both removals and additions, are reviewed and approved by the County Agriculture & Farmland Protection Board, and these are presented to the PEEQ and County Legislature. The County Legislature must hold a public hearing between 120 and 180 days of the Ag District anniversary to gather any further input on additions and removals. Final boundaries are approved by the County Legislature, after which all documents including SEQR review, are submitted to the NYS Dept of Agriculture for final approval of district changes and continuation by the NYS Ag Commissioner.
One benefit of the NYS Ag District Law is an agricultural assessment of farmland which generally lowers overall property taxes. To qualify for ag assessment, farmers must generate $10,000 in ag product sales, own at least 7 acres, and have been farming for 2 years. Additionally, landowners who rent to qualifying farmers and have a 5-year lease agreement with the farmer can receive the same exemption on rented land. More details on qualifications can be found at: https://www.tax.ny.gov/research/property/assess/valuation/ag_overview.htm
If you qualify for an agricultural assessment, the first step is to contact the Soil and Water District to complete a Soils Group Worksheet – contact SWCD at 607-257-2340 in January and February for an appointment to complete this process; once done, this is no longer a necessary step unless you buy more land to farm.
Once the Soils Worksheet is completed, bring it along with proof of farm sales (Schedule F), or if you are a landowner, a copy of a 5-year lease, to the County Assessment office. Call them at (607) 274-5517, or visit https://www2.tompkinscountyny.gov/assessment. They will direct you to fill out Agricultural Land Exemption Form RP-305. You do not need to be in the Agricultural District to claim that exemption.
To receive an agricultural exemption, you MUST apply every year by March 1 to ensure you benefit from lower property taxes. The County Assessment office sends you a reminder and the form to complete. All you have to do is send it in to the office on time (no later than April 1, in Tompkins County).
If you would like to learn more about this NY State program and the benefits conferred to Agricultural District properties, please visit the NY State Department of Agriculture and Markets Ag Districting page at https://agriculture.ny.gov/land-and-water/agricultural-districts
Last updated March 2, 2021